HOW DOES THE IRAN ELECTION AFFECT THE REGION?

As I discuss in my column today, Obama's foreign policy strategy has had a qualifiable effect on Middle East dynamics. But the aftermath of Iran's election is also sure to have a spillover effect elsewhere in the region. What effect, of course, depends on the final act of the drama in Iran.

In the worst case, of a violent crackdown with hundreds or thousands of protesters killed, says Amatzia Baram, a historian of the Middle East at Haifa University, the Iranian regime would follow up by trying to present "an impeccable radical record … an Islamist record" to its public. That would mean more involvement in Iraq, more agitation among the Shi'ite minorities in the Gulf states, more support for Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other hand, Baram says, any compromise to end the protest would bring "a slow mellowing of the regime, power-sharing with liberals and so forth"-- but only in a slow process taking years.

The relationship with Hezbollah, says Lebanese political scientist Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, transcends which president is in power in Tehran; it's basic to the regime. For that reason, Hezbollah was unconcerned about who won the Iranian election -- but must find the post-election instability "discomfiting."

At present, Lebanon's parties have agreed to quietly put aside the explosive issue of disarming Hezbollah, which now plays a double role as party and independent armed force. But events to the east could change that. Political scientist Hilal Khashan of Beirut’s American University says that "if you want to know what will happen in Lebanon," watch Tehran. Iranians, he explains, are tired of the regime's lavish expenditures on Hizballah while they remain poor. If Iranians are "turning away from the rightwing Islamic revolution," Hezbollah will be orphaned. That would allow "the stabilization and pacification of Lebanon," Khashan says.

A compromise in Tehran will have a more subtle but important impact on Israel. Mousavi, like Ahmadinejad, is committed to Iran's nuclear program. But Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denying rhetoric has been critical in creating the sense of existential fear in Israel. Any compromise in Iran would make it more difficult for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue shifting attention from the Israeli-Palestinian issue to Iran. For Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese, much depends on what happens on the streets of Tehran.

-- Gershom Gorenberg

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